Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation and government’s benefit cut ‘rethink’ may not change anything

Chancellor George Osborne presenting his 2016 budget to UK's parliament.

Chancellor George Osborne presenting his 2016 budget to UK’s parliament.

Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation from his position as UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary gives the government a chance to abandon its planned cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – but don’t hold your breath, it probably won’t happen.

Gone: Ian Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary.

Gone: Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary.

In his resignation letter, Duncan Smith said that while the benefit cuts are “defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers.”

Every government has its finances to consider, with so much to gather in, so much to spend, so much to borrow and so on. Then there is the matter of the surplus or, more usually, the deficit that has to be controlled.

It was with all this in mind that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, equivalent to other countries’ finance ministers, presented his budget to parliament on Wednesday.

Of course there were lots of items in it but nothing so controversial as plans to hit disabled people who claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP). And, unlike the recent move to reduce Employment Support Allowance (ESA) from next year for new claimants, the proposed PIP changes will affect those already receiving it when their claims are next reviewed.

There is no need, here, to go into the full details but it could mean anyone affected could lose £55 a week – which is a significant amount to a person with MS or any other disability.

But not everything is smooth sailing as the often turbulent waters of parliament are threatening to get stormier by the minute.

Voices are naturally being raised against the move – and not all from expected quarters. You would count on opposition from MPs of other political parties but, now, a sizeable section of Conservative backbenchers is threatening to rebel against the government.

Maybe they have been alarmed by the massive show of public opinion that has so far led to three MPs being required to stand down from their roles as patrons of charities after voting for the ESA cuts.

Then, on BBC television programme Question Time, government Education Minister Nicky Morgan said that the PIP cuts were just a “suggestion” at this stage and that further discussions were needed.

And, although this has been dismissed by someone described as close to then Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, her views have since been reflected by the Chancellor.

BBC News was told that Mr Duncan Smith was saying that the government is not in “concession territory”, adding: “I don’t know how Nicky is explaining what she said but she doesn’t quite seem to have understood what Iain has been saying.”

Since then, however, Mr Duncan Smith has resigned while Mr Osborne has said he will revisit the £4.4billion cut to PIP “to make sure we get this absolutely right.”

The Daily Mirror newspaper reported:

Government sources confirmed the cuts will now be “kicked into the long grass” and could eventually be scaled right back.

“This is going to be kicked into the long grass. We need to take time and get reforms right, and that will mean looking again at these proposals,” a source said.

“It’s not an integral part of the Budget – it’s a package that came out beforehand. We are not wedded to (saving) specific sums.”

A word of warning, though. It is important not to take this a face value. The planned cuts have not been dropped, “Revisiting them” does not mean they have been abandoned. Even “scaling back” does not mean dropping the cuts.

Like all politicians in a difficult place, they are wriggling, using phrases to encourage us to think the situation has changed while being just as committed to the cuts. Even though Iain Duncan Smith has gone, don’t be fooled.

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